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When you are drinking too much - tips for cutting back

Doctors consider you to be drinking more than is medically safe when you drink:

  • Many times a month or many times a week
  • 3 to 4 drinks or more in one day
  • 5 or more drinks on one occasion, on a monthly or weekly

Alternative names

Alcohol - drinking too much; Alcohol use disorder - drinking too much; Alcohol abuse - drinking too much

Ways to cut back

Watch your drinking patterns more closely and plan ahead. This can help you cut back on your alcohol use. Keep track of how much you drink and set goals.

  • Track how many drinks you have during the week on a small card in your wallet, on your calendar, or on your phone.
  • Know how much alcohol is in a standard drink -- a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, a wine cooler, 1 cocktail, or 1 shot of hard liquor.

When you're drinking:

  • Pace yourself. Have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per hour. Sip on water, soda, or juice in between alcoholic drinks.
  • Eat something before drinking and in between drinks.

To control how much you drink:

  • Stay away from people or places that influence you to drink when you do not want to drink, or tempt you to drink more than you should.
  • Plan other activities that do not involve drinking for days when you have the urge to drink.
  • Keep alcohol out of your home.
  • Make a plan to handle your urges to drink. Remind yourself of why you do not want to drink, or talk to someone you trust.
  • Create a polite but firm way of refusing a drink when you are offered one.

Getting help from others

Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your drinking. You and your doctor can make a plan for you to either stop or cut back on your drinking. Your doctor will:

  • Explain how much alcohol is safe for you to drink
  • Ask if you have often been feeling sad or nervous
  • Help you figure out what else about your life may be causing you to drink too much
  • Tell you where you can get more support for cutting back or quitting alcohol

Ask for support from people who may be willing to listen and help, such as a spouse or significant other, or non-drinking friends.

Your place of work may have a program where you can seek help without needing to tell anyone at work about your drinking.

Some other resources where you can seek information or support for alcohol problems include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) -- www.aa.org
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) -- ncadd.org/index.php/learn-about-alcohol

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5. November 2013. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf. Accessed on May 11, 2014.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol abuse and dependence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 32.

Sherin K, Seikel S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 49.

Updated: 5/11/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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